Daughter's acting isn't up to par, but how should he tell her?
Q: My daughter is 12, and with all her heart wants to be a star. She's had a chance to be in a number of plays through the local community playhouse. She has fun, but feels bitter about not getting the lead role. She doesn't really have a singing voice, or a knack for dancing. Her acting skills are okay, but she doesn't have presence. And, this is her dad saying this.
She's never had singing or dancing lessons. Unfortunately, the cost rules them out. She does her homework, hangs out with friends and is on a sports team.
I don't know how to deal with her bitterness. Some days, it goes beyond disappointment. I want to support her interests, but I feel like she wants me to tell her she's the best performer on the stage, and she's getting robbed.
A: You're the parent, not the director/teacher/coach. You speak to the quality of her experience — and yours, watching her — but not the quality of her craft. It's not your place to handicap her success, in either sense of the word.
Your job, both as the reigning adult and as the person who loves her in her entirety, knackless dancing and all, is to set her straight on healthy ambition.
Her stardom ambition is hardly rare; the unusual 12-year-old (any-year-old?) is the one who craves obscurity. The result: cruel math. Every stage, studio, playing field, classroom, pool or gym is packed with would-be stars. The vast majority have to fall short; it's the law of the star jungle. Not everyone gets a turn.
Yet how often do you see only one person leaving these venues happy?
It's the people who can enjoy their pursuits for their own sake, and welcome any recognition as a bonus, who get the most sustainable pleasure from life. They recognize they're entitled to opportunities, not to success.
People become this way by learning that interests are what you enjoy even when no one is looking. Certainly no one is watching most of the training and sacrifice that go into becoming the best. An interest in starring doesn't count as an interest — a motivation, maybe, but not an interest.
So deal with her bitterness by doing what she can't: Look past the star manque, and help her see who she is. Steer her, through specific questions, toward finding her sense of purpose. Does she have fun in smaller roles? What does she like about it, what else has that same effect for her? What does she enjoy, or do well? If starring roles weren't in the cards — hypothetically — what would she do instead?
There's an ulterior motive in this suggestion, just as I sense there's one in her burn for stardom. To crave attention is to crave the answer to everything, since stardom promises to cross all major anxieties off the list (good looks, popularity, wealth, popularity . . .).
Of course, it's a false promise; on this, the tabloids are beacons of truth. Fame doesn't fix, it merely amplifies.
If she's feeling lost or low, then it'll be her interests that elevate her, not conspicuous success at them. The love of music drives rock stars, the love of sport drives athletes, the love of attention drives trains off rails.